Featured Posts

Student Reminders! EN100 Students: Diagnostic Paragraphs Due 9/9

Readmore

Welcome Back! Welcome Back, UWP Students. Thus begins the fall semester!

Readmore

Litspot Rss

The Evangelical Rejection of Reason (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 20-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Rebuttal Articles, Rebuttal Articles

Tags: ,

0

By Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens

THE Republican presidential field has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann deny that climate change is real and caused by humans. Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann dismiss evolution as an unproven theory. The two candidates who espouse the greatest support for science, Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., happen to be Mormons, a faith regarded with mistrust by many Christians.

The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism, textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. As one fundamentalist slogan puts it, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced.

Like other evangelicals, we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book, though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation. Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.

Fundamentalism appeals to evangelicals who have become convinced that their country has been overrun by a vast secular conspiracy; denial is the simplest and most attractive response to change. They have been scarred by the elimination of prayer in schools; the removal of nativity scenes from public places; the increasing legitimacy of abortion and homosexuality; the persistence of pornography and drug abuse; and acceptance of other religions and of atheism.

In response, many evangelicals created what amounts to a “parallel culture,” nurtured by church, Sunday school, summer camps and colleges, as well as publishing houses, broadcasting networks, music festivals and counseling groups. Among evangelical leaders, Ken Ham, David Barton and James C. Dobson have been particularly effective orchestrators — and beneficiaries — of this subculture.

Mr. Ham built his organization, Answers in Genesis, on the premise that biblical truth trumps all other knowledge. His Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Ky., contrasts “God’s Word,” timeless and eternal, with the fleeting notions of “human reason.” This is how he knows that the earth is 10,000 years old, that humans and dinosaurs lived together, and that women are subordinate to men. Evangelicals who disagree, like Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, are excoriated on the group’s Web site. (In a recent blog post, Mr. Ham called us “wolves” in sheep’s clothing, masquerading as Christians while secretly trying to destroy faith in the Bible.)

Mr. Barton heads an organization called WallBuilders, dedicated to the proposition that the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation. He has emerged as a highly influential Republican leader, a favorite of Mr. Perry, Mrs. Bachmann and members of the Tea Party. Though his education consists of a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University and his scholarly blunders have drawn criticism from evangelical historians like John Fea, Mr. Barton has seen his version of history reflected in everything from the Republican Party platform to the social science curriculum in Texas.

Mr. Dobson, through his group Focus on the Family, has insisted for decades that homosexuality is a choice and that gay people could “pray away” their unnatural and sinful orientation. A defender of spanking children and of traditional roles for the sexes, he has accused the American Psychological Association, which in 2000 disavowed reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality, of caving in to gay pressure.

Charismatic leaders like these project a winsome personal testimony as brothers in Christ. Their audiences number in the tens of millions. They pepper their presentations with so many Bible verses that their messages appear to be straight out of Scripture; to many, they seem like prophets, anointed by God.

But in fact their rejection of knowledge amounts to what the evangelical historian Mark A. Noll, in his 1994 book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” described as an “intellectual disaster.” He called on evangelicals to repent for their neglect of the mind, decrying the abandonment of the intellectual heritage of the Protestant Reformation. “The scandal of the evangelical mind,” he wrote, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

There are signs of change. Within the evangelical world, tensions have emerged between those who deny secular knowledge, and those who have kept up with it and integrated it with their faith. Almost all evangelical colleges employ faculty members with degrees from major research universities — a conduit for knowledge from the larger world. We find students arriving on campus tired of the culture-war approach to faith in which they were raised, and more interested in promoting social justice than opposing gay marriage.

Scholars like Dr. Collins and Mr. Noll, and publications like Books & CultureSojournersand The Christian Century, offer an alternative to the self-anointed leaders. They recognize that the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage. They understand that Christian theology can incorporate Darwin’s insights and flourish in a pluralistic society.

Americans have always trusted in God, and even today atheism is little more than a quiet voice on the margins. Faith, working calmly in the lives of Americans from George Washington to Barack Obama, has motivated some of America’s finest moments. But when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians.

Karl W. Giberson is a former professor of physics, and Randall J. Stephens is an associate professor of history, both at Eastern Nazarene College. They are the authors of “The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 18, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: The Evangelical Rejection of Reason.

How to Stop the Drop in Home Values (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 20-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Rebuttal Articles, Rebuttal Articles

Tags: ,

0

By MARTIN S. FELDSTEIN

HOMES are the primary form of wealth for most Americans. Since the housing bubble burst in 2006, the wealth of American homeowners has fallen by some $9 trillion, or nearly 40 percent. In the 12 months ending in June, house values fell by more than $1 trillion, or 8 percent. That sharp fall in wealth means less consumer spending, leading to less business production and fewer jobs.

But for political reasons, both the Obama administration and Republican leaders in Congress have resisted the only real solution: permanently reducing the mortgage debt hanging over America. The resistance is understandable. Voters don’t want their tax dollars used to help some homeowners who could afford to pay their mortgages but choose not to because they can default instead, and simply walk away. And voters don’t want to provide any more help to the banks that made loans that have gone sour.

But failure to act means that further declines in home prices will continue, preventing the rise in consumer spending needed for recovery. As costly as it will be to permanently write down mortgages, it will be even costlier to do nothing and run the risk of anotherrecession.

House prices are falling because millions of homeowners are defaulting on their mortgages, and the sale of their foreclosed properties is driving down the prices of all homes. Nearly 15 million homeowners owe more than their homes are worth; in this group, about half the mortgages exceed the home value by more than 30 percent.

Most residential mortgages are effectively nonrecourse loans, meaning creditors can eventually take the house if the homeowner defaults, but cannot take other assets or earnings. Individuals with substantial excess mortgage debt therefore have a strong incentive to stop paying; they can often stay in their homes for a year or more before the property is foreclosed and they are forced to move.

The overhang of mortgage debt prevents homeowners from moving to areas where there are better job prospects and from using home equity to finance small business start-ups and expansions. And because their current mortgages exceed the value of their homes, they cannot free up cash by refinancing at low interest rates.

The Obama administration has tried a variety of programs to reduce monthly interest payments. Those programs failed because they didn’t address the real problem: the size of the mortgage exceeds the value of the home.

To halt the fall in house prices, the government should reduce mortgage principal when it exceeds 110 percent of the home value. About 11 million of the nearly 15 million homes that are “underwater” are in this category. If everyone eligible participated, the one-time cost would be under $350 billion. Here’s how such a policy might work:

If the bank or other mortgage holder agrees, the value of the mortgage would be reduced to 110 percent of the home value, with the government absorbing half of the cost of the reduction and the bank absorbing the other half. For the millions of underwater mortgages that are held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government would just be paying itself. And in exchange for this reduction in principal, the borrower would have to accept that the new mortgage had full recourse — in other words, the government could go after the borrower’s other assets if he defaulted on the home. This would all be voluntary.

This plan is fair because both borrowers and creditors would make sacrifices. The bank would accept the cost of the principal write-down because the resulting loan — with its lower loan-to-value ratio and its full recourse feature — would be much less likely to result in default. The borrowers would accept full recourse to get the mortgage reduction.

Without a program to stop mortgage defaults, there is no way to know how much further house prices might fall. Although house prices in some areas are already very low, potential buyers continue to wait because they anticipate even lower prices in the future.

Before the housing bubble burst in 2006, the level of house prices had risen nearly 60 percent above the long-term price path. So there is no knowing how far prices may fall below the long-term path before they begin to recover.

I cannot agree with those who say we should just let house prices continue to fall until they stop by themselves. Although some forest fires are allowed to burn out naturally, no one lets those fires continue to burn when they threaten residential neighborhoods. The fall in house prices is not just a decline in wealth but a decline that depresses consumer spending, making the economy weaker and the loss of jobs much greater. We all have a stake in preventing that.

Martin S. Feldstein, a professor of economics at Harvard, was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1982 to 1984 under President Ronald Reagan.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 13, 2011, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: How to Stop the Drop in Home Values.

The Gift of Glib (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 20-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Rebuttal Articles, Rebuttal Articles

Tags: ,

0

By Gail Collins

Right now you’re probably asking yourself, how did Rick Perry do in the big Republican debate in New Hampshire this week?

He did great! It turns out that Governor Perry has a big energy plan, known as “The Plan I’m Going to Be Laying Out.” When he does, it’s going to be the answer to almost everything. We know that because no matter what Perry was asked, he talked about the plan. Which will involve “the American entrepreneurship that’s out there.” And a whole lot more. When he’s ready to tell you.

For the rest of the time, Perry pretty much sat there like a large boulder with good hair, while the remaining members of the gang attacked Herman Cain, the former fast-food chain president turned Republican front-runner, about his economic plan.

This is what we’ve come to. A presidential debate about the 9-9-9 plan.

9-9-9 is the sine qua non of the Cain candidacy. It would scrap the tax code and give us 9 percent corporate, income and national sales taxes. He mentions it every 10 seconds. (Opening statement, he got it in by 5.)

I have never heard anybody discussing the 9-9-9 plan in the real world, but obviously I hang out in the wrong places. The organizers and the candidates felt the need to really get into this, and, as a result, Tuesday night in New Hampshire will go down in history as the 9-9-9 plan debate. (Here is how presidential primary debates go down in history. The tapes are stored in a moisture-proof vault in a civil defense cave in Indiana. If the world as we know it should come to an end, the surviving members of our species will be able to relive these deeply American contests and pass their knowledge on to their children. Soon, they will go forth and repopulate a world in which all the boys sit around looking smug like Newt Gingrich and all the girls sound like Michele Bachmann. That is what they mean by “the living will envy the dead.”)

Among the elite cadre of Americans who have been thinking about 9-9-9, a good number have determined that it won’t raise enough revenue. “The problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect,” announced Cain firmly. I do admire the way he does this. If I could convey that tone, I would win every argument in my family just by saying “The problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect.” And there would never again be a discussion of renting a limo for a family viewing of all the Cincinnati Christmas lights.

Also, Michele Bachmann pointed out that 999 turned upside down is 666, which would make Cain’s tax policy the mark of the devil. Cain seemed to find that amusing, but he looked a little peeved when Jon Huntsman suggested 999 might be the price of a box of pizza.

That, people, was the sum and substance of the wit and humor of the New Hampshire Republican debate. Jon Huntsman also tried to make a joke about gas, but we are not going there.

Cain, in an attempt to pull down his competition, asked if Romney could name all 59 points in his 160-page economic plan.

Now I strongly suspect that Mitt could name all 59 points. I bet he repeats them at night to put himself to sleep. (“lower marginal tax rates … more free trade agreements … mmmmzzzzzzz.”) But he didn’t fall into that trap. He whipped out the seven pillars of Romneyism, which support the 59 points and can, therefore, be packed into one 30-second response. If you ignore Charlie Rose yelling in the background.

The guy has pillars for his points. No wonder he’s winning.

There were other high points — Gingrich accused Romney of starting class warfare by advocating an end to the capital gains tax only for investors making under $200,000 a year. He also said Barney Frank and Chris Dodd should be thrown in jail for their bill to reform Wall Street financial practices. Herman Cain said Alan Greenspan was the best Fed chairman in recent history. Michele Bachmann gave the fact-checkers another great night of error-correcting. It was the usual good time for all, except you do kind of wonder what the heck gives this particular crowd of people the right to be the nation’s official presidential contenders. What do they have in common? Intelligence? Appropriate experience? A large base of followers? Not so much.

What have they got? They’ve all got glib.

Except one. It’s enough to make you feel sorry for Rick Perry. If he wasn’t Rick Perry.

As things stand, the Perry camp is apparently planning to keep their guy in the background during debates and hit Romney over the head with mean commercials. That shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe they’ll include the day Mitt drove to Canada with the family dog on the car roof.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 13, 2011, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: The Gift Of Glib.

The Milquetoast Radicals (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 20-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Rebuttal Articles, Rebuttal Articles

Tags: ,

0

By David Brooks

The U.S. economy is probably going to stink for a few more years. It is beset by short-term problems (low consumer demand, uncertain housing prices, too much debt) and long-term problems (wage stagnation, rising health care costs, eroding human capital).

Realistically, not much is going to be done to address the short-term problems, but we can at least use this winter of recuperation to address the country’s underlying structural ones. Do tax reform, fiscal reform, education reform and political reform so that when the economy finally does recover the prosperity is deep, broad and strong.

Unfortunately, the country has been wasting this winter of recuperation. Nothing of consequence has been achieved over the past two years. Instead, there have been a series of trivial sideshows. It’s as if people can’t keep their minds focused on the big things. They get diverted by scuffles that are small, contentious and symbolic.

Take the Occupy Wall Street movement. This uprising was sparked by the magazine Adbusters, previously best known for the 2004 essay, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” — an investigative report that identified some of the most influential Jews in America and their nefarious grip on policy.

If there is a core theme to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that the virtuous 99 percent of society is being cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent.

This is a theme that allows the people in the 99 percent to think very highly of themselves. All their problems are caused by the nefarious elite.

Unfortunately, almost no problem can be productively conceived in this way. A group that divides the world between the pure 99 percent and the evil 1 percent will have nothing to say about education reform, Medicare reform, tax reform, wage stagnation or polarization. They will have nothing to say about the way Americans have overconsumed and overborrowed. These are problems that implicate a much broader swath of society than the top 1 percent.

They will have no realistic proposal to reduce the debt or sustain the welfare state. Even if you tax away 50 percent of the income of those making between $1 million and $10 million, you only reduce the national debt by 1 percent, according to the Tax Foundation. If you confiscate all the income of those making more than $10 million, you reduce the debt by 2 percent. You would still be nibbling only meekly around the edges.

The 99-versus-1 frame is also extremely self-limiting. If you think all problems flow from a small sliver of American society, then all your solutions are going to be small, too. The policy proposals that have been floating around the Occupy Wall Street movement — a financial transfer tax, forgiveness for student loans — are marginal.

The Occupy Wall Street movement may look radical, but its members’ ideas are less radical than those you might hear at your average Rotary Club. Its members may hate capitalism. A third believe the U.S. is no better than Al Qaeda, according to a New York magazine survey, but since the left no longer believes in the nationalization of industry, these “radicals” really have no systemic reforms to fall back on.

They are not the only small thinkers. President Obama promises not to raise taxes on the bottom 98 percent. The Occupy-types celebrate the bottom 99 percent. Republicans promise not to raise taxes on the bottom 100 percent. Through these and other pledges, leaders of all three movements are hedging themselves in. They are severely limiting the scope of their proposed solutions.

The thing about the current moment is that the moderates in suits are much more radical than the pierced anarchists camping out on Wall Street or the Tea Party-types.

Look, for example, at a piece Matt Miller wrote for The Washington Post called “The Third Party Stump Speech We Need.” Miller is a former McKinsey consultant and Clinton staffer. But his ideas are much bigger than anything you hear from the protesters: slash corporate taxes and raise energy taxes, aggressively use market forces and public provisions to bring down health care costs; raise capital requirements for banks; require national service; balance the budget by 2018.

Other economists, for example, have revived the USA Tax, first introduced in 1995 by Senators Sam Nunn and Pete Domenici. This would replace the personal income and business tax regime with a code that allows unlimited deduction for personal savings and business investment. It’s a consumption tax through the back door, which would clean out loopholes and weaken lobbyists.

Don’t be fooled by the clichés of protest movements past. The most radical people today are the ones that look the most boring. It’s not about declaring war on some nefarious elite. It’s about changing behavior from top to bottom. Let’s occupy ourselves.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 11, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: The Milquetoast Radicals.
Improve Your Life, Go The myEASY Way™